Pet Peeve- Reply All; Digital Etiquette Matters

It happens too often; you get an email sent to multiple people setting up a meeting or providing information about something. There’s always one person who hits ‘reply all.’ How many times does that ‘reply all’ message just read “Thanks.” replyallOr worse – is a long message about why they can’t make the meeting because they have to pick their young son up from soccer, then run their daughter to piano lessons, then they have to go food shopping. I hear you yelling, “WHO CARES?” Well, making excuses is another topic; for now, back to the ‘reply all.’

In my business communications class at Rutgers-Camden there are a myriad of topics we discuss. It seems that the ‘reply all’ conundrum is something that continues to be a problem. Why is it that in this age of digital messages many of us can not train ourselves to be more attentive to replying to emails?

Compare this mistake to back in the day when you actually called someone on the phone rather than send an email. Would you just call the person holding the meeting to let them know you couldn’t make it – or would you call everyone involved? well, of course – just the team leader needs to know you couldn’t be there.

How do you stop from accidentally replying to EVERYONE on an email list? Simply breathe; take your time. Pay closer attention to what you are doing. If you are completely rushed – step AWAY from the keyboard. As my mom used to tell me all the time, “Watch what you’re doing.”

This ‘reply all’ problem is complicated when you reply to emails on your Smart phone. Everything is smaller and not exactly change-wp7-email-signaturethe same as your computer keyboard. All the more reason to TAKE-YOUR-TIME. Make a rule of thumb: don’t reply to emails while you are in the car at red lights. WAIT until you have a few moments to concentrate on your digital etiquette.

Another pet peeve: be sure you have a businesslike email signature on your Smart phone, tablet or iPad. Do you really have to advertise that you wrote the message on your Samsung phone? Go into ‘settings’ and set up your email signature properly with your name, title, etc. DELETE the advertisement for the type of phone you have.

Just like when we were little and we were taught to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you,’ it’s time to learn more digital etiquette.

Watching Camden Up Close

Driving into Camden from the South Jersey suburbs brings home the thought that Sacred Heart Church’s Father Michael Doyle has pressed for many years: there are a thousands miles between the suburbs and Camden. When I heard Center for Transformation staffer Andrea Feirich and board president Mark Doorley talk about how Camden became cut off from the region when the Ben Franklin Bridge, Admiral Wilson Boulevard and 676 were constructed, it didn’t mean as much to me until today. My husband, son and I drove to help at the weekly dinner at Joe’s Place. The nondescript building across from Sacred Heart Church at Broadway and Jasper is in the heart of Waterfront South.

Once we turned left onto Broadway leaving Rutgers-Camden, Cooper Hospital and Campbell’s Soup in our rearview mirror, it was if we’d stepped into a war zone. There’d be a few decent homes or businesses on Broadway or a side street, then vacant sites or more likely, boarded up homes, business and buildings that probably won’t see attention for years. We passed what looked like a group of volunteers serving a meal right outside in a vacant lot. Once we parked and got to the St. Vincent de Paul Society building, we knocked on the locked door. Once Burt let us in, we were welcomed by Sheryl and John along with the other volunteers who have given of their time, their hearts and souls to the community. This was our first time, so we were glad to do whatever was needed to serve dinner and dessert to about 60 people from the community.

Precisely at 4 p.m. when the doors opened, the people appeared. Their faces showed a road map of hard life. Women and men came. Their clothes worn and torn. There were a few little girls with their young mother. One man had a very pleasant conversation with himself the entire time he was having dinner. But he looked me in the eyes and asked for his pie for dessert; then he went back to his seat to enjoy his dessert and continue his conversation. Except for one angry man, each person was so grateful for every bite they were offered. Many had two plates of food and two (or three desserts). It didn’t matter. Our hosts supplied the lovely meal. We were glad to serve and share a little of ourselves with others who have so little.

When we were leaving today, dinner was still going on at Joe’s Place. I was getting in the car when a man walking through the vacant field next to the building yelled, “It’s not over is it?” I realized he was a regular at Joe’s Place and yelled back, “No, of course not; there’s plenty left.” The big smile on his face led me to think this might be his only good meal of the day and maybe for the week. He was carrying a plastic grocery bag. I know he was going to be taking some leftovers with him.

We drove just 50 yards from our parking spot. Looking down the side street to my right was a drug deal happening before my eyes. The person in the driver’s seat gave the man standing outside the car the money; the two shook hands. The deal was sealed. There is so much work to do in Camden. So many lives that need tending to. But in reality, it must start with the youngest of the people in Camden. There’s a way out. The many good people doing wonderful things on a daily basis in Camden can make it happen for these children. The thing is, my hope is that the children see the light with the right guidance, then they will show others like them the way out. For now, we can all do just a little more – a day at a time. Inside Joe’s Place, everyone is good and safe and has a full belly.

The Art of Letter-Writing

With respect to the greeting card industry, I have never found a sympathy card that truly reflects my thoughts or feelings about the dearly departed. Sometime between the time I attended my first viewing and when a co-worker’s baby died, I realized I had a knack for expressing condolences in a personal, heartfelt way.

Teaching my class business communications sometimes feels like that proverbial salmon swimming upstream. The mainly twenty-somethings are so intent on texting, emailing and using whatever shorthand they can find, most have never written a heartfelt, handwritten note. When I was growing up, I went to Girl Scout camp. I wrote letters home; my mom wrote back (never my dad) and I remember a boyfriend who also wrote to me and I him. I still have a shoebox stashed in the attic with those handwritten missives.

The other night in class, I was telling the students what an art it is to receive a heartfelt note. While handwritten is best, it’s also a talent to be able to sit at the keyboard and write a letter that includes a memory, a story, or a moment in time that brings a smile to the reader’s face and maybe brightens their day.  Losing a co-worker to an accident or a business associate dying suddenly are examples of why you would have to write a letter of condolence. The looks on my students faces ranged from, “not me – I’ll never have to write THAT letter,” to a look of sheer terror – “WHAT would I EVER say?” I explained that again, you are writing to the reader. You want to make that person feel a little better, if only for the time it takes to read the few paragraphs.

I remember when two married co-workers lost their baby. He’d been sick from the moment he was born and fought for a while, but he died. While I was driving to work shortly before the baby’s death, for some reason I had to drive to work a different way. I remember seeing in the sky above the road a formation of clouds in a circle that seemed to create an opening. At that moment, I felt as though the baby was being called from above – for his suffering to end and he was walking into the heavens above. I wrote something like that to the parents in hopes that they could find some peace.

Maybe you remember a great joke the person told or how they had a fantastic laugh; maybe the person wasn’t so nice but had a terrific knack for organizing events or meetings. Tell the story you know in a brief and heartfelt way and the reader will appreciate your effort.

Meantime, I really wish people would get back to writing cards and letters. The U.S. Postal Service is billions of dollars in the red. Hardly anyone writes cards or letters anymore. The impersonal email has taken over. You barely get a printed birthday card anymore. People send those completely ridiculous e-cards. At the holidays, you may get a batch of greeting cards with a family’s yearly letter – we even send one. I’m wondering how long holiday cards will last and people resort to sending e-holiday greetings.

Perhaps you’ve never written a letter or sympathy card from scratch. You probably have those thoughts churning in your brain. The next time the occasion calls for it, think about pulling out a blank card or notepaper from the desk. You may have to dig deep in the back of a drawer, but I bet that note card is there. It’ll take you a few moments. The results will be straight from your heart – to the reader’s. Now, excuse me while I write to my nephew who’s looking for my next letter.

A Little of This…A Lot of That..

My husband noticed I haven’t blogged in several days. This reminder almost (but not quite) felt like a boss nudging me to get a job done. There’s been a lot of this and that going on. Doug was away on business in China for 11 days. These long absences give me outrageous respect for single parents. While there is just one son to shuttle around and oversee, there are always days when extra hands would help. Those days got in the way of blogging.

Spring semester at Rutgers got underway last week. I now have 42 kids..I mean students. Unlike last semester, I don’t have single parents or students who have children in this class. I do continue to have students who are working their way through school; some have two jobs; a few are helping support their families; about 15% are from other countries. I did a great thing. I decided there was no way I would ever remember 42 names. I made terrific name plate for each student in a large font. They keep the name plate with them and put it on display for each class. It’s amazing how I am getting to know their names. It’s really fun sharing experiences with the class. They are starting to come out of their shell and realize that I really am there to help them..not lecture to them. The students who stand-out (in a good way) always show themselves first. Their hands go up answering questions or making comments and they seem to stay alert for the hour and twenty-minute class. Now, I have to work on reaching the ones who seem to hunker down in their seat and hide.

Their first writing assignment was to introduce themselves to me and explain how the course will help them. I really enjoy reading their pieces. There are students who have rarely written before. One student talked about his job on a road work construction crew. He mentioned the swearing goes on as part of the “business communication.” Such a hoot. Several students wrote about working toward their degree so they can begin their career in their family business. Other students wrote about their journey toward their education in the U.S. from another country. Fascinating to get just a glimpse of the stories

Joanne & Ryan - We'll miss you!

among 42 students.

The other journey beginning is of my friend Joanne and her son. She is a lieutenant colonel in the army and shipped out to a base in Germany this week. We went to their farewell party last weekend. Joanne is one of the most amazing people I’ve ever met. She is a Presbyterian minister, the head chaplain at Ancora State Hospital where the most deranged, criminal mental patients are housed. She is a single mom with two teenaged sons. She’s served two tours in Iraq; in her earlier life she was a champion swimmer; she counsels grieving families and listens to the family problems of soldiers and their families. Joannedoes all this with a personality and demeanor that is always bright and happy. She is so loved and respected, it fills me with joy that she is part of my life in some small way. I will truly miss seeing her face over the next 18 months.

My son is preparing for his first semi-formal event. The sophomore cotillion takes place soon. The three of us went to get him a suit, shirt, tie, shoes – the whole package. As I watched the salesman measure Adam for the suit and then the shirt size, I did get a little weepy remembering buying his first pair of sneakers when he could barely walk. WHY we spent $36 for those shoes still boggles my mind today. Now, we hope the nearly $200 we spent on his entire ensemble will fit him for more than a week. The gal he is going with to the cotillion is a friend from church. She asked him. Sweet. He’s also found out that another girl wanted him to ask her to the dance. He’s learned, it’s nice to be wanted.He also took the written NJ driver’s test at school today. He says it was easy. Just wait until he gets behind the wheel. Brace yourself!

As we face another winter chill, I’ll work on trying to keep my posts more current. So much to do; so little time – and that time is so very precious.

It’s like brushing your teeth

It’s tough enough to keep a commitment to go to the gym a few days a week. To commit to keep a journal, online or otherwise, every day, is nearly impossible. While my career has changed in the past year, I get to do so many new and different things, that there are days I simply run out of hours. I could sit at my desk for hours and get a multitude of things done. The next thing I know, it’s 2:30 and I haven’t had lunch.

Tuesday, I heard a report that you shouldn’t sit at your desk more than 45 minutes or face the problems of being overweight along with other health issues. That apparently applies even if you regularly exercise. The rule of thumb, the report says, is get up every 45 minutes and get that blood going.Not much moss grew under my feet Tuesday. I was out of the house at 9 a.m.; driving to a client meeting and stopping on the way to pick up a gift for some friends; took some photos for the client; the meeting in Ocean County at 11 a.m. lasted until 12:15; I made a few stops on the way home; downed a quick salad for lunch; got ready for the first day of teaching business communications at Rutgers-Camden; left the house at 3:45 to stop to drop off the gift for the friends; got to class just before start time at 4:30; taught until 5:50 p.m.; answered some students’ questions; talked with the next teacher in the room; motored back to Cherry Hill to pick up my son from his bowling match; got home; stir-fried dinner I had prepped the day before; grabbed my Sustainable Cherry Hill notes and got to an executive committee meeting a couple of minutes after 7 p.m.; the meeting lasted until 9 p.m.; collapsed at home by 9:30 p.m.

It wasn’t a record, but I certainly wore a lot of hats yesterday, leaving me with hat-hair. Wonder why I didn’t get to write a blog post?

Today, I caught up. I’m getting some great media exposure for Sustainable Cherry Hill and efforts to link the suburbs with Camden and the Center for Transformation. Cross your fingers that you’ll be seeing the story on TV – soon. Don’t want to jinx it.

Just Passing Through

“We’re not owners here; we’re just passing through.” In the outstanding Academy Award-winning film, Out of Africa, Denys Finch Hatton (played by the wonderfully photogenic Robert Redford) is dancing with Karen Blixen (Meryl Streep) and laments to her that our possessions and our lives are fleeting. http://www.spike.com/video/out-of-africa-out-of/2324400

Imagine the despair and hopelessness felt by the tens of thousands of Haitians affected by the earthquake. Their lives were always difficult. Haiti is among the poorest nations in the world. Formal education is rare; illiteracy is the norm. But, this was their normal. The happiness experienced in the past, friends, family and day-to-day tasks will likely never be the same. While we are so very resilient as a species, lives in Haiti have been cut short; those who have survived may be suffering for an incredibly long time with illnesses, injuries that never heal properly and the loss of loved ones.

The 11 year-old girl who ws a miracle just the other day; pulled from the rubble in Port-au-Prince died. http://www.cnn.com/2010/WORLD/americas/01/17/haiti.earthquake.girl.funeral/index.html?hpt=C1

Anna’s life was fleeting. She did not own her life; she was just passing through.

As our nation honors Martin Luther King, Junior with a day of service, we remember to help those in our communities. This week, Sustainable Cherry Hill (www.sustainablecherryhill.org) and the Center for Transformation in Camden are presenting “The Poet of Poverty.” The documentary profiles Father Michael Doyle, a long-time advocate of Camden, its people and what is good no matter where you live. The event also includes a panel discussion led by Father Doyle and other local community leaders. The event itself is a sell out, but the message is: take your passions, your knowledge, your strength to other communities that need your help. Rutgers-Camden is also planning an event the end of the month to inspire the campus community to help in its host community.

While an earthquake of the magnitude that struck Haiti is never like to strike in our region, there is poverty and hopeless people within a few miles of you. We can help in many ways large and small. What is important is that we try to help.

“When you think the gods are punishing you, they answer your prayers,” said Karen Blixen in Out of Africa. We can help answer some prayers..every day.

http://american.redcross.org/site/PageServer?pagename=ntld_haiti_video_landing

Are we ever organized?

Do people admire your sense of organization? Do they tell you they wish they could be organized like you? Bless them. From where I’m sitting, I need a wife; someone to support me and ask me if I have everything together and pick up the proverbial slack sometimes. I could use someone to back me up in keeping me organized. I just went through a lot of my Rutgers material in preparation for teaching the same course for the spring semester. I seemed as though I was organized, but now, I’m organizing my material even further. The good news is, I won’t have to create everything from scratch; From lesson plans to understanding the text book, now, the course is not new to me (thank god!).

I have a couple of piles (OK, maybe three piles) around my office. There’s the “pending” pile, the “to-be-filed” pile and the “I’m-not-sure-what-I-want-to-do-with-this” pile. Every once in a while, I go through these piles and do something with the material. Why is it that there is ALWAYS a pile?  Probably for the same reason I haven’t finished hanging art/photos up in my office. I’m waiting for the mood to strike me. At some level, I realize THIS is the way I work. If I have everything put away, it looks as though I have nothing to do, which is never the case.

I just found a note I made to myself to call someone who may need PR help. You see? Had I filed that note where it belongs, I would have forgotten completely about it. It just showed up in one of my three piles (the pending pile).

Today, finally, I published my basic web site. It’s up and running now and this begins my constant tweaking and revising process. It’s the same thing I’ve done with my resume for the past year. I update and tweak when I get spare moments. It’s also good to clear your head in between these intense writing situations. I have spent weeks agonizing over the web site. I decided, less is more. I needed a web presence and the site is there. I have a Facebook page for the business as well. (That reminds me, I need to put the Facebook icon on the web site — see, some tweaking already!)

In the end, we’re never as organized as other people think we are, but we’re probably better than most when it comes to getting through the day without a meltdown. Excuse me now, while I go hunt for the piece of paper I was looking for before I started writing this.